Plato said, and here I quote “Those who refused to take part in politics are destined to be ruled by inferiors” we see immense problems in our political system like dynastic politics, illiterate leadership, undaunted military influence over civil institutions and many more. In the struggle to fix all these problems initially most of us remain apathetic because they have no hope to see the system smoothly sailing, and those who find salvation in democracy usually miss a very important spot to shed light upon, i.e student unions. Before discussing student unions extensively, it is very necessary to mention that having student unions is a democratic right, which the constitution of Pakistan protects under article 17. In the struggle of solving all problems mentioned above student unions are as significant as anything else. Theorizing rules of mathematics only can’t result to get good score same goes with politics; sound political system can’t be achieved without allowing student unions at colleges and universities.
The platform is good source of unveiling compassionate, determined, honest and straight-up individuals. Political history is evident that the stigma attached to student unions is totally unfair. These unions are never meant to create violence nor do they take away students from their academics. Just like any other co-curricular activity, it is an activity but different in nature. Essentially it gives political training; how to present your demands, what could be the possible legal way to achieve them, how to mobilize with students; belonging to different ethnicities and regions, gives an opportunity to listen different narratives, how to build a pressure group, a sense of check and balance over power and many more. Student unions serves twofold; on basic level it give voice to the problems students face during their academic career, giving an insight to election system too while on a higher level they also raise concerns to domestic and pertinent international issues.
To analyze the importance of students in the political arena of Pakistan we need to retreat and look into the time when Pakistan was in the formative face. From the very start students; part of Aligarh movement played a vital role throughout the course of creating Pakistan albeit, Quaid.e.azam also recognized their efforts. They used to participate in political demonstration and emerged to be a big mass power. Students were also involved in mobilizing people and spreading the ideology of Pakistan. Then came the period of Ayub’s dictatorial regime where all political parties were crashed, liberties were snubbed and political participation was strongly pacified. It was during such time when students once again felt dire need to bring their force on play and liberate their people from political debacle. Thus students in the form of NSF (National Students Federation) took the forefront in the movement against the despotic and authoritative regime of General Ayub and subdued his power. It is considered to be a big achievement of students for restoring democracy in the country.
Military takeover of General Zia-ul-haq in 1978, brought death to the student unions along other grave social and political crisis. The precedent set by the student unions in past was actually something of which the General Zia feared, he was not ready to compromise his unchecked power therefore, without taking any risk and to ensure his ruling till his last breath he took a very hard stance and banned all student unions except IJT( Islami jamiat tulba). The reason he put forth was contradictory; student unions perpetrate violence and political parties abuse them thus they should be banned while other side of the coin pictured that he himself provided arm and moral support to IJT. The idea behind strengthening IJT was to crush other student unions specifically the progressive ones. As IJT was align with the ideology of Zia-ul-haq (Islamization) and worked to propagate it, so the dictator used them to counter “OTHER” narratives existing among the public. Moreover, it was required for an uninterrupted survival of his regime.
Remained dormant for a long time now a ray of hope is emerging among students. A close view of present situation reveals that students are now taking interest to get this right back and the progress can be seen in the form of DSA (democratic student alliance) functional in Lahore though it aims at extending its roots to other parts of the country. Also the revival of NSF can be seen as a development in this regard. In light of the growing tendencies over student politics, chairman senate Raza rabbani has showed a good gesture by initiating debate on resuming student unions. A brief study of political history of Pakistan, role of student politics in national as well as in international politics have made it clear that the role of student unions can’t be denied in the formation of harmonized political culture (would be concern in making legal demands as well as outcomes).Beside all other means to alleviate the existing system from the menaces it breeds, restoration of student unions would be the first and foremost political remedy.
The contributor is a student at SC University, Lahore.